Life in the Ashes of Lotusland Dreams

The Kincade Wildfire, currently burning in Sonoma County, California erupted at 9:24 PM on October 23 during an extreme wind event, east of Geyserville (77 miles or 124 km north of San Francisco). An area of 400 acres (2 square kilometers, 2 km^2) burned that evening. By October 30 the fire had burned an area of 76,825 acres (311 km^2), and was only 30% contained. The daily progress of the Kincade Fire is charted in the following figure.

“The cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed by a formal investigation, but a compulsory report shows that the fire started when a 230,000 volt transmission line failed near the point of origin, just before power was about to be shut off in the area” [1] as a precaution against anticipated high winds causing electrical lines and tree branches swinging into each other and sparking a wildfire in the parched hilly landscape.

During October 23 and 24, PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company] carried out a massive power shut-off to nearly 940,000 customers in Northern California, this included a swathe of territory at the higher elevations of the Berkeley Hills (the low mountains behind the cities on the east side of San Francisco Bay). My home, in Oakland, was in this blackout. The winds died down on October 25, and my power was restored for a day; but this was not so in the blacked-out areas of Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties (and possibly also Marin County, and numerous counties further north). Another extreme wind event was anticipated for October 26 and 27, so PG&E began shutting off power in an attempt to prevent additional fires, leaving an estimated three million people (2.5 to 2.8 million) without power.

A 102 mph (164 kph) wind gust was recorded at Pine Flat at 3,300 feet (1000 meters) elevation, at 8 AM on October 27. A National Weather Service forecaster noted the wind speed on Twitter and shared that sustained winds had also “officially broke Hurricane Force (78 mph, or 126 kph).” [2] From the chart above, you can see how the area covered by the Kincade Fire expanded during these gusty conditions, between October 26 and October 28.

There were and are many severe wildfires raging in California north and south during this time (the Getty Fire in Los Angeles being one); the Kincade Fire is merely the largest current wildfire in the state. The Kincade Fire threatened over 90,000 structures (by October 30, 189 have been destroyed) and has caused widespread evacuations throughout Sonoma County, including the communities of Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor. The majority of Sonoma County and parts of Lake County are under evacuation warnings.

There are 4,900 firefighters trying to contain and extinguish the Kincade Fire alone. Some of these firefighters are prisoners. “These are the people we write off, don’t allow to vote, don’t allow to become firemen once released” [3]; “people who are paid unconscionably low wages” for helping to keep so many of us safe. [4]

By October 28, power had been restored in my section of Oakland; it still remains off in most of the blacked-out territory in the northern counties (October 30), but I believe it is now slowly being restored in areas released from evacuation warnings.

Cal Fire (the state agency dealing with wildfires) put out 300 fires between the 28th and 29th, and more than 650 fires since the 27th. Smoke will linger in the San Francisco Bay Area atmosphere for days, no rain is forecast and temperatures are predicted to drop to near freezing in some areas; and the winds are expected to die down after October 30. The Kincade Fire is expected to be 100% contained by November 7, 2019. Most Sonoma County school districts will remain closed through November 1, and many schools in Marin County were closed as of the 30th. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs in California demanded that Governor Gavin Newsom find a way to restore power to the numerous VA clinics that do not have backup power equipment. [5]

A Sonoma County man who used an oxygen ventilator to assist his breathing was reported to have died shortly after the electric power was cut to his home. [6] The power cuts and evacuations were very hard on people who are frail, infirmed or who require powered medical devices to assist and sustain them. The authorities had established evacuation centers to include the medically needy, but it seems not all of them made it to safety.

PG&E reported that 1.2 million people, in 28 California counties, have been without power since October 26. The process of restoring power can take 48 hours, and PG&E expressed the hope of beginning that process early on the 30th. [5]

There have been many calls now — as newspaper editorials, letters-to-the-editor, comments on social media, angry voices in the streets, and conversations through sporadic telephone connections between cold blacked-out homes — for the State of California to take over PG&E and run it as a publicly owned electric and gas utility.

Besides losing lights, reliable refrigeration (for food and medicine storage), the use of: electrically powered medical devices, electric cooking devices, wall-plugged electronics, recharging capability for battery-powered electronics and cellular telephones; many homes in more rural areas lost water because their local water company (or their own well) relies entirely on PG&E electricity to run the water pumps. It is no fun to not be able to flush in a blacked-out house for a week, unless you can find a way to haul in water. Running a gasoline-powered generator helps (if you have one, along with safe heavy-duty extension cords to run into the house), but this must be carefully done so as to avoid introducing carbon-monoxide fumes into the home (you’re stuck with the motor noise), and not cause a fire during your handling of the gasoline (which you must repeatedly travel to purchase) when replenishing the tank of the generator unit.

The losses of lives, property and homes to fire were the greatest tragedies that people suffered, and the large-scale evacuations and blacked-out sheltering-in-place were the most widespread hardships. But economic damage spread further in the form of lost wages by many lower-income workers in small businesses that were closed due to lack of power, and for restaurants the added impact of foodstuffs lost to spoilage with the loss of refrigeration. Large food supermarkets near me brought in self-contained refrigeration tractor-trailers to store perishable foods, or motor-generators to power the refrigerators in the stores. Either way, gasoline or diesel fuel was being burned (and exhaust gases emitted) locally to replace the missing PG&E electricity needed for refrigeration.

Nearby restaurants that were not in black-out zones were crowded through the week with us hungry refugees from the black-out; and our rate of expenditure for eating necessarily increased. Many of us refugees would also seek out electrical outlets at these restaurants and coffee houses, to recharge our cell phones and portable computers. I like to read books at night, and this became impossible without the use of some battery-powered light (and battery depletion would be a problem), or, more risky, with the use of candles.

The anxiety about lack of electrical power, and the uncertainty about when it would be restored was for so many otherwise prosperous and bountifully endowed Californians the visceral experience of a very noticeable decay of “the American way of life.” This was a sensible punch-in-the-gut by climate change (global warming, drought, wildfire) and not just climate change as an insubstantial verbal construct, an abstraction, a slogan. This was also an unpleasant visceral hint of what a descent into Third World living might be like, for a significant population of Americans (in California) who would otherwise unthinkingly continue with perhaps the most privileged lifestyles experienced by any mass population on Earth.

Some appreciation of the scope of the Kincade Fire can be gained by viewing the photo taken of it from by space by US astronaut Andrew Morgan. [7]

The Kincade Fire is the plume on the right, wafting toward the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco Bay occupies the left half of the image just below the coastline. The view from bottom to top is from east to west.

Another view of the Kincade Fire burn area is given by a 6 minute video recorded during a fly-over on October 29 by the Henry 1 helicopter of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. It looks like a film clip of a US chopper flying over the burnt and blasted jungle hills of Vietnam 50 years ago (with a touch more suburban development) but without the sight and sound of explosions. ( [8]

“The wildfire season in the American West is now two and half months longer than 40 years ago. Wildfires are now four times more common and burn six times as much forest area. Some of today’s fires are so big and hot they burn the soil itself, and when that happens it can take up to a thousand years for the trees to grow back. By 2050 wildfires in the United States will be twice as destructive as they are now and each year will burn 20 million acres. An estimated 339,000 people die each year from smoke from wildfires. By 2050 we are expected to lose half of all the forests in the American West.” [9]

It seems that by November 1 the Kincade Fire and other smaller blazes in Northern California will be nearing full containment and total extinction, most evacuees will have returned to their homes — if they still have them — and those homes will regain electrical power, and the many workers temporarily put out of their wage-earning jobs because of the black-outs will once again be employed. But it could all happen again with the onset of another period of extreme wind during this dry season (please rain soon! but then we will have flooding and landslides because of the loss of soil-holding vegetation). And what of the dry seasons in the years to come?

Undoubtedly there will be swift recriminations, lawsuits, fights with insurance companies (and rate increases), political posturing and even perhaps useful actions in the California legislature and by the Governor’s office. With luck the political system of the State of California will swiftly develop new plans that are immediately put into action to devise strategies and infrastructure to better prevent the outbreak of such rapidly expanding wildfires, and reduce (ideally eliminate) the necessity of having widespread electrical power shut-offs during the highly windy days of our (global warming lengthening) fire season.

For an increasing number of Californians, the 20th century illusions about “the American way of life” have been lost in the dark of de-electrified homes with shut-off water, and gone up in the smoke of raging wildfires that extend to the horizons.


[1] Kincade Fire (30 October 2019)

[2] SFGATE (a Facebook web-page of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper)

[3] David Menschel, @davidminpdx

[4] Bay Area For Bernie (Facebook group)

[5] The San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 30, 2019

[6] Santa Rosa Press Democrat, October 24-27, 2019

[7] Kincade Fire from space, photo by Andrew Morgan

[8] Kincade Fire, Henry 1 Fly Over (10/29 1:00pm)
Sonoma Sheriff

[9] Climate Facts: Wildfire Season
11 October 2017


Kincade Fire, FINAL, 6 November 2019, 7:00 PM

Sonoma County
active 14 days:
start -> 23 October 2019, 9:27 PM
cause: under investigation
77,758 Acres, vegetation
100% contained
374 structures destroyed
60 structures damaged
4 injuries (first responders only)


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lyrical Aviator

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, simply known as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900 – 31 July 1944), was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and also won the United States National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation writings, including Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight.

Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air), flying reconnaissance missions until France’s armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised from the French Air Force, he travelled to the United States to help persuade its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany. Following a 27-month hiatus in North America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, although he was far past the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health. He disappeared and is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean on 31 July 1944.

Prior to the war, Saint-Exupéry had achieved fame in France as an aviator. His literary works – among them The Little Prince, translated into 300 languages and dialects – posthumously boosted his stature to national hero status in France. He earned further widespread recognition with international translations of his other works. His 1939 philosophical memoir Terre des hommes (titled Wind, Sand and Stars in English) became the name of an international humanitarian group; it was also used to create the central theme of the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century, Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec. Saint-Exupéry’s birthplace, Lyon, has also named its main airport after him.

The above three paragraphs (out of many more) are from:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince, published in 1943, is estimated to be the 3rd best-selling book ever, with 140 million copies sold.

List of best-selling books

Today’s blog post was motivated by my reading of Wind, Sand and Stars, a book described as follows:

Wind, Sand and Stars (French title: Terre des hommes, literally “Land of Men”) is a memoir by the French aristocrat aviator-writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a winner of several literary awards. It deals with themes such as friendship, death, heroism, and solidarity among colleagues, and illustrates the author’s opinions of what makes life worth living. It was first published in France in February 1939, and was then translated by Lewis Galantière and published in English by Reynal and Hitchcock in the United States later the same year.

in the wikipedia article about it:

Wind, Sand and Stars,_Sand_and_Stars

It is an excellent book. My copy is a 222 page book published by Time-Life Books in 1965, with a preface by “The Editors of Time,” an introduction by Pierre Clostermann (a leading Free French fighter-plane pilot of World War II, who was also a member of the French National Assembly), and the 10 chapters of Saint-Exupéry’s English language version of his book Terres des hommes. Those chapters are titled: The Craft, The Men, The Tool, The Elements, The Plane and the Planet, Oasis, Men of the Desert, Prisoner of the Sand, Barcelona and Madrid (1936), Conclusion.

Chapter 2, The Men, is about the pioneering long-distance air-mail flights (over the Sahara Desert, the Atlantic Ocean and Andes Mountains), exploits, crashes and survival epics of two French aviators active in the 1920s and 1930s, Mermoz, and Guillaumet. Besides being entirely captivated by the romance and adventure of early mechanized flight, they were also entirely committed to expanding the reach of aviation to advance the development of human civilization.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8, Oasis, Men of the Desert, Prisoner of the Sand, involve numerous recollections of Saint-Exupéry’s three years flying over the Sahara, of being stationed at remote desert outposts, and in Prisoner of the Sand (the central story of the book) of crashing in the Libyan Desert and nearly dying of thirst during a four day ordeal of hallucinatory trekking, along with his mechanic Prévot.

Chapter 9, Barcelona and Madrid (1936), is a fascinating eye-witness account of Saint-Exupéry’s time in Republican Spain during the first year of its Civil War, getting close to the fighting, and trying to understand the willingness of simple people to voluntarily risk (and sacrifice) their lives in very sketchy, under-equipped and under-manned operations for the defense of the Republic.

An excellent photo-essay about the Prisoner of the Sand airplane crash, and struggle of human survival, is given at:

29 December 1935: Wind, Sand and Stars
[Saint-Exupéry’s desert crash in the Simoun airplane]

The author of the above blog, This Day In Aviation (which is excellent for its topic), Bryan Swopes, has also posted a nice summary (with numerous photos) of Saint-Exupéry’s life;

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 June 1900–31 July 1944)
[nice summary, with photos]

Saint-Exupéry’s 1935 Prisoner of the Sand experience was the inspiration for his story 8 years later, The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry’s writing has more of a lyrical-philosophical nature than of a thriller adventure story of the kind adolescent boys (including me) and B-movie producers love. But those more thoughtful musings on the human condition, and on the interactions of strangers from vastly different cultures in the much wider and less-connected world of the 1930s, arose out of Saint-Exupéry’s immersion in the professional life of a remote-country and endurance-flight aviator, and have been the compelling draw to his many aviator-readers worldwide for over 80 years. And one needn’t be an aviator to also fall under the spell of their elegance.

Despite his age and less than ideal health during World War II, Saint-Exupéry managed to gain an assignment with the Free French Air Force as a pilot, flying a F-5B-1-LO unarmed photo-reconnaissance variant of the Lockheed P-38J Lightning twin-engine fighter. On 31 July 1944 he took off from his base on the island of Corsica for a mission in the Rhône Valley. He was never seen again. “In 1998 a fisherman found his silver identity bracelet on the sea floor south of Marseilles. Parts of the aircraft were recovered in 2003.” Bryan Swopes summarizes that day in his brief photo-essay:

31 July 1944
[Saint-Exupéry’s loss in his P-38]

As a mechanical device, the P-38 Lightning was a beautiful thing from the perspective of form-following-function, that function being aerial performance. But, sadly, the purpose for that function was to be a tool of war, a killing machine; and from today’s greater appreciation of green energy and the understanding of global warming, the P-38 and all its war-plane kin, past and present, are terribly wasteful carbon polluters relative to the few people they carry and the destructive uses they are put to. Aside from these regrettable realities, I think the P-38 has beautiful lines from every perspective, and I can imagine the exhilarating experience of flying one.

Was Saint-Exupéry shot down on 31 July 1944, or did he experience a fatal mechanical failure? Hard to say, conclusive evidence either way is lacking. Records of Luftwaffe (the air force branch of the German Wehrmacht military forces) operations for southern France at that time are lacking due to their wartime destruction, and the debris patch of Saint-Exupéry’s P-38 is long and wide, and the pieces mostly all quite small, implying a high speed impact on the water. The highly fragmented nature of the debris, along with its corroded state after over 60 years on the sea floor, has made it impossible to detect any bullet holes that one would suppose to exist if a Luffewaffe fighter-plane had shot down Saint-Exupéry’s P-38.

Saint-Exupéry expressed his ethos this way, on pages 126-127, in Prisoner of the Sand, in my edition of Wind, Sand and Stars:

My world was the world of flight. Already I could feel the oncoming night within which I should be enclosed as in the precincts of a temple — enclosed in the temple of night for the accomplishment of secret rites and absorption in inviolable contemplation.

Already this profane world was beginning to fade out: soon it would vanish altogether. This landscape was still laved in golden sunlight, but already something was evaporating out of it. I know nothing, nothing in the world, equal to the wonder of nightfall in the air.

Those who have been enthralled by the witchery of flying will know what I mean — and I do not speak of men who, among other sports, enjoy taking a turn in a plane. I speak of those who fly professionally and have sacrificed much to their craft. Mermoz said once, “It’s worth it, it’s worth the final smash-up.”

An artist’s impression of Saint-Exupéry’s last flight.


I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019


I Rebel, Therefore We Exist, 2019

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of her origins and family today (19 October 2019), I remembered my own story because they are so similar. My mother, too, is a lovely Puertorriqueña; I too was born in the Boogie-Town island stolen from the American Indians (Manhattan); we too lived in Parkchester, in the Bronx, in a basement apartment (concrete floor, concrete walls, tiny windows at the top at shoe-level to the sidewalk); I too have felt the glass ceiling pushing me down (my whole career), along with other melanin-rich talent.

My rebellion was never as brilliantly insightful nor as spectacularly successful as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, but it still goes on in my own idiosyncratic and annoying way (my unpopularity is deserved, and I’m proud of it). So I can easily bypass the cynicism and miffed sense of superiority of the self-regarding left intelligentsia who are so obviously jealous of the genuine popularity — and political effectiveness — of Alexandria and Bernie.

I can relish the first possibility for a real change in American politics, economics and life that I’ve seen since my heart sank on November 8, 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, defeating Jimmy Carter, and since December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was murdered and Ronald Reagan went on the air to defend guns and the NRA. It was so clear America was plunging into an abyss as blithely and stupidly as the British, French and Germans marched into World War I in 1914; and America has in every way, hasn’t it?

Maybe now, 39 years later, enough people have been hurt by the institutionalized criminality of the American political economy that many of the survivors of those times — the workers, not the parasites — and our new, younger generations are really ready to join up and actually create a successful revolution. I have no shame in appearing to be “utopian” or “dreamy” or “immature” or “foolish” or “naïve” in holding and vocally proclaiming such a hope and such a wish. Bernie’s got 9 years on me, so I’ve seen almost as much as he has of 20th and 21st century American and world history; and I know what can be because it already was once, I lived in it. And I want the best of the past for my three children (two older than AOC). And for their children if they have them, and for everybody’s children, and all children everywhere.

I want the thieves robbing today’s youth of their futures — as they rob and have robbed their wage-slave parents and grandparents — along with the unctuous slimy hypocritical bottom-feeding careerist political ass-kissers (you see them daily on TV) — who tell you a decent life for you is impossible, or costs too much, and who pimp justice to claw their way to the top — to rot in a hell for them where they are discarded, ignored, profitless and robustly taxed: a new American society that is socialist, and democratic, and universally just, and enthusiastically ethical and intelligent.

Vision must precede any reality that one wants to realize, and so in these times don’t repress your vision out of fear of the future or (worse yet) fear of your public image being ridiculed. Let your vision be grand, let it soar, because we want that vision to take us as far as the yet unknown political opportunities of the next year may allow us to go. Don’t be so fearful of being disappointed by the “imperfections” of whatever the political outcome is in 2020 and beyond, that you repress your thinking and emotions in favor of the entirely possible “impossible dream” that Bernie Sanders (above all others) has articulated to the nation.

The “revolution,” as Bernie calls it, will never be perfect, no revolution ever is, but that is not the point. The goal is to get as much revolution as American politics, physical reality, and the inherent chaos of the universe will allow the American people, united in both uplifting aspiration and just purpose, to achieve. And not just in 2020, but continually from this moment on.

So, again, I don’t care how foolish I look or sound. Over my life I’ve seen too much lying, betrayal and exploitation palmed off as “the way things must be,” and I also know the opportunity of a lifetime when I see it. We blew it in 2016, but by now it should be obvious to everybody that a tsunami of change must drown the cold dead vampire of American capitalism, beginning with the ballot boxes on November 3, 2020, and then continuing far beyond electoral politics into every aspect of American society and American life.

So go ahead, be “foolish,” have a dream, have vision, pump out the vibes, because every revolution is powered by a unity of human aspirations, and every advance of civilization occurs as a jolt along the fault-lines of human society: by revolution. “I rebel, therefore we exist.” (Thank you, Albert Camus.)

Videos of Bernie and AOC, 19 October 2019

“Bernie’s Back” Rally with AOC in New York
19 October 2019
[complete speeches by all, at the rally today]
1:31:50 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
1:51:10 AOC ->to-> Bernie
2:52:04 end of Bernie’s speech.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Bernie For President
19 October 2019
[Solo studio video appearance, 3:05]

AOC’s Bernie Endorsement: HIGHLIGHTS
[Excerpts of AOC’s address at the 19 Oct. 2019 rally, 5:54]


Remembering R. P. Kroon

Rein Kroon and another Westinghouse engineer testing strain on celluloid model of mount for Hale Telescope. (Hagley)


Reinout Pieter Kroon (4 August 1907 – 4 August 1992) was my professor for turbomachinery during my Mechanical Engineering undergraduate years (1968-1972) at the Towne School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania (which is in Philadelphia). He was a kind, intelligent, witty and perceptive man, with great insights into what engineers — as public-minded, socially conscious citizens — could and should be. This web-page is my appreciative memorial for him.

“Reinout P. Kroon (1907 – 1992) was a Dutch mechanical engineer who immigrated to the United States in 1931 after earning his M.S. degree from the Federal Technical Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Joining Westinghouse Corporation that year, he soon became a development engineer in the Steam Division.

“In late 1935, Westinghouse sent Kroon to Pasadena to work on the details of the mounting of the 200-inch telescope. During his six-month assignment, Kroon solved three major design issues. First, he designed the hydrostatic pressure system with which the telescope turns in right ascension on a thin film of oil. Second, he designed the horseshoe and ball bearings for the north and south ends of the yoke. Finally, he designed the spoked declination bearings that allow the telescope to travel north and south.

“Later, Kroon became head of engineering research at Westinghouse where he managed a team that in 1945 developed the first commercially viable American jet engine. In 1960, he joined the engineering faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where he rose to the position of chairman of the graduate division of mechanical engineering.” (

Reinout Kroon was the Team Leader at Westinghouse in the making of the first American jet engine. The story of that effort during the World War II years is described by Kroon in his lecture-pamphlet “What’s Past Is Prologue” (shown below), and the unsuccessful effort to commercialize the initial technical triumph of making that turbojet, during the years 1950-1960, is given in detail by Paul D. Lagasse in his 1997 Master’s thesis in American History (

Professor Kroon was a tall, elegant and personable man; he was a fabulous instructor and an inspiring example of an engineer’s engineer. From him I learned more about fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, specifically about turbomachinery, and — most elegantly — dimensional analysis; he was very adept mathematically. A field trip to the Westinghouse plant where huge turbines (for steam turbine electric generators) were built, was memorable. The stamping machines for fashioning the turbine blades were awesome, and loud!

Reinout had one brother, Berend Jan Gerhard (Bert) Kroon; and he was married to Dora Kroon (born Kaestli, on 25 May 1910, in Bern, Switzerland) with whom he had children, one son being Berend Walter Kroon. Reinout Kroon lived in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Professor Kroon died tragically in 1992, on his 85th birthday, as a result of injuries sustained some days earlier in an automobile accident.

What’s Past Is Prologue

Kroon, Dimensional Analysis

PDF files of the two pamphlets displayed below are available from the web-links above.


Space & Time Dependent Boltzmann Distribution of Electrons in Gases

(28 June 1994, and a bit later)

Analytical Time Dependent Boltzmann Distribution of Electrons in Gases with Inelastic Collisions
Boltzmann Electrons (t)

Analytical Space and Time Dependent Boltzmann Distribution of Electrons in Gases with Inelastic Collisions
Boltzmann Electrons (x,t)

PDF files of the two reports are available from the links above; the reports are displayed below.



Electric Vortex in MHD Flow

(Spring 1995)

Electric Vortex in MHD Flow

A PDF file of this report is available from the link above; and the report is displayed below.


Closely related:

Proton Beam Driven Electron MHD


The Political Realities of Science Work

The author at work, 1983

The author at university, ~1970


The Political Realities of Science Work

Josue De Luna Navarro had an article published (in two parts) in the 4 and 7 October 2019 editions of Counterpunch, on how fossil fuel companies are distorting the orientation of engineering and science education to their favor by making large funding grants to universities to promote the idea that geo-engineering schemes can make it possible to continue with fossil fuel extraction and burning indefinitely:

How Fossil Fuels Pollute STEM Education

Geoengineering is a Scam

I agree with Navarro’s criticisms completely, and I add the following.

Mr. Navarro points out a fact that has always been true of the engineering profession (and also most other highly refined professions) that its students, first seeking education, and then as graduates seeking employment and lengthy careers, are destined to serve monied patrons, the Golden Rule: “those that have the gold make the rules.” Four to five millennia ago those patrons would have been called “Pharaoh,” and later “king,” “caesar,” “emperor” and “queen,” and in more recent centuries “the company” and “the corporation.” Professional expertise, like high art, has a dependency on patronage by the wealthy without whose largesse professional ambitions would be nearly fruitless (for there are always some successful independent scientists, like Charles Darwin).

My engineering education and physics career (1968-2007) was funded (besides by my parents paying my tuition and living expenses during my undergraduate years) by U.S. government money (the public) funneled through the military. Most decent paying options for employment after schooling were with manufacturing, electronics or energy corporations, defense (war industry) corporations, and government agencies. A tiny fraction of engineering science jobs were in academia. In any case, all such engineering science employees were servicing the aims of the Big Money: profitability for the corporations, greater military power through advanced technology, and the combination of both as greater global political power for the policy-making elite of the nation. Same as in Khufu’s day.

Because America’s militarism-backed capitalism is fossil fueled, both in my time and Navarro’s the oil and gas industry has been a major buyer and owner of engineering and science talent, as Navarro states. The great challenge for any engineer and scientist working in today’s government-funded paradigm of science professionalism is to try to keep body and soul together through corporate and government (and academic) employment while at the same time trying to produce work that is as much in the public interest as possible. A very difficult ideal to achieve, and not all engineers and scientists even try to. Our engineering professors were reluctant to talk about the political realities of our profession, and our economic captivity by the Big Money and its Capitalist Government, because they saw no alternative to it.

Navarro is right to excoriate the fossil fuel industries’s efforts to corrupt the intellectual integrity of the engineering and physical sciences, by urinating money on our professions’s training academies to drench them in the odor of the narrowly self-serving corporate mindset of fossil fuel burning forever, and for the endless profitability of oil and gas (and coal) extraction. Even so, it is up to each individual engineer and scientist to learn the facts about global warming and climate change and environmental degradation, and the unfortunate political realities governing the economics of their profession, as a matter of professional ethics and personal integrity. This is the necessary first step for them to have any possibility of producing work for the public good.

Navarro is correct to call geo-engineering to attenuate global warming a scam. It’s like trying to design a more effective helmet that would allow you to continue playing Russian Roulette. The most energy efficient, cost effective, socially beneficial and rapid solution to the fundamental problem is to simply stop the damaging behavior, which in the case of climate change is greenhouse gas emitting capitalism. But, that would be economically leveling and fatal to militarism, so unacceptable to the courtiers of capitalism, in all their national factions.

Like all engineers, I like machines and gizmos and gadgets, and I especially like flows of energy. But the best use of such engineered mechanisms are as adjuncts in harmony with the workings of nature for the beneficial maintenance of a sustainable society. There are so many delectable challenges to be enjoyed in the fashioning of a non-fossil fueled civilization, a Green New Deal, that operates within the natural tolerances for the continuation of a stable and benign (interglacial) global climate, that all the 21st century engineers could be fulfillingly employed for their lifetimes to help fashion and maintain that kind of world society. The immediate challenges are twofold: transform energy systems and industrial and food production operations to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemical pollution, and stop environmental damage and engage massively in environmental restoration of lands and the oceans. Planting trees and cleaning up plastic pollution are just two examples of specific tasks that easily come to mind.

So I circle back to the same conclusion as always: our problems are not technological but political. So long as our politics are bad — our economics held captive by fossil fueled capitalism and militarism, to the general detriment of the public — our technologists will be directed by the self-interests of the Big Money and the War Industries, and not by the public good of engineering and managing a decent society in harmony with Nature.